Written by Suzanne Quast Burke
I went all through Catholic school from kindergarten through law school. I loved every minute of my time in Catholic school and consider the friends I made there among my best and closest. I have even stayed involved after leaving school serving as a Trustee for eight years on the Board of my high school, Sacred Heart Academy.
When it was time for me to send my own children to school, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that nothing beats a public school education if you live in a good school district in Suffolk County. Since I do in fact live in a good school district in Suffolk County, I did just that. My two older children, now 9 and 7, began school at the local kindergarten and although they seemed to get along fine, I felt something was missing. There were little things that I thought could be improved. For example, I thought more emphasis should be placed on the basics of spelling and multiplications tables. A little more emphasis on memorization wouldn’t hurt either in my opinion. However, time marched on and they continued on for a few years in public school.
Then, as I was looking for a full day pre-school program for my twins, now 5, for the 2020-2021 school year, I decided to attend an Open House at St. Mary School in East Islip during Catholic Schools Week of January, 2020. The minute I entered the building it just felt like home. I took the tour guided by students who you could see genuinely loved and valued attending St. Mary School (SMS). I signed my twins up for full day pre-school that day. Little did I know at the time, the pandemic would be in full swing a few short weeks later.
As we rolled into the first summer of the pandemic and realized that it was going to last much longer than originally anticipated, I took note of the differences in the way that the public school was handling things in comparison to the Catholic schools. The thing is that there really was no comparison. We were sent home information relating to the opening of schools in the Fall. SMS sent a concise letter explaining how things would be handled. The public school sent out a thirty plus page tome which confused me more after reading it than before. I attended Zoom meetings at both SMS and the public school. The public school had no real answers to the many questions about how things would look and the protocols for the upcoming year. SMS put up plastic barriers and opened windows and the public school did not. The local public high school had students in for only 2 days a week for the majority of last year, yet with roughly the same number of students and a building less than half of the size, Sacred Heart Academy remained opened and students attended in person every day. While I realize it was an extremely confusing time, there was no mistaking that the Catholic schools were committed providing a safe environment for students and reopening in person full time and did just that.
At one point, when it appeared that my older children would not be in person every day, I looked into transferring my older children to SMS but there was not enough room given the new spacing requirements. I kept in touch with SMS and was so pleased with how they handled the pandemic but also how much my twins were blossoming with the added love and learning of compassion that I ended up transferring my older children this year to SMS. At first they were apprehensive of the transition, but now they love it and have made new friends. They are learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic along with values which are priceless. So far the only complaint has been from my son that he has to wear a tie for more than just the first day. Certainly, if the children are happy and that is the only complaint, I know that I have made the right decision choosing Catholic education for my children.